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The Persecution of Barry Bonds

The time was 8:02 A.M., and I was the first person to walk into what in the next year or more would be the chamber where Barry Bonds would be either vindicated or convicted of lying to a federal grand jury. My eye was drawn to the grand dais behind which Judge Susan Illston would preside during the trial, a huge seal of the U.S. district court anchoring the wall, a U.S. flag to the side. The courtroom had wood paneling and a high ceiling. Courtroom 10 had no windows, just like the place Bonds would go if a jury found him guilty.

Outside the San Francisco federal building that December 2007 morning. Dozens of photographers mingled around satelitte-TV trucks. A couple of women in bikinis shivered as they tried to take advantage of the scene to advertise the virtues of a vegan lifestyle. Gradually the reporters and lawyers filed into the courtroom for the main event. A dour courtroom artist in a black suit entered with her sketch pad, her pens and pencils hanging around her neck like bad jewelry.

About 8:30 a bald guy strode in from a side door, taking a seat in front. Jeff Novitzky, IRS agent and Barry Bonds’s nemesis, wore a dark suit and looked straight ahead. A few minutes before nine Bonds made his entry. His dark suit was of a better but than Novitzky’s and hung easily off his broad shoulders. The baseball star chatted and joked with his lead attorney, Michael Rains. Bonds’s legal team was big enough to fill an infield.

This was opening day for Bonds in his arraignment on federal perjury charges. He would not make every hearing during the next year, but when he did you could count on Novitzky being in the courtroom, watching his every move.

I had first heard of Novitzky five years before, in the summer of 2003, weeks before the government raid on Victor Conte, mastermind of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), the company suspected of distributing steroids to high-profile athletes, and Bonds’s trainer, Greg Anderson. Only four lawmen were working the BALCO investigation at the time. That summer and fall I met and talked to three of them a few miles from where Bonds pumped iron and became a home-run legend. From the beginning, the story they told me, which I wrote for PLayboy in May of 2004, Gunning for the Big Guy, was markedly different from both the official government account and nearly all of the books and countless articles that would be published on the steroid scandal.

Winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. The Persecution of Barry Bonds. Playboy, April 2006.

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